- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has suspended its recertification program for emergency medical technicians despite an inspector general’s report saying recertification is critical for public safety.

Fire officials say budgetary concerns are behind the class suspensions, which could affect 157 emergency medical technicians (EMTs) until the next fiscal year begins in October.

Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the D.C. Department of Health would grant extensions of current certifications.

“We expect some to expire, but the Department of Health extensions should cover them until they get it done,” he said. “The bottom line is that patient care won’t be affected.”

Kenneth Lyons, leader of the union that represents the fire department’s civilian medics, challenged that view, citing the findings of an inspector general report that criticized the department’s readiness.

“The Rosenbaum case shows that we have EMTs out there who can’t assess patients,” said Mr. Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721. “How can it not affect patient care?”

Last month, D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby issued a report detailing multiple errors in response to the handling of the emergency call for retired New York Times editor David E. Rosenbaum.

Mr. Rosenbaum was attacked and beaten Jan. 6 in Northwest and died two days later as a result of his injuries.

The report’s top recommendation for the fire department was that officials “ensure all personnel have current required training and certifications prior to going on duty.”

The report said the firefighter/EMTs who responded to the scene did not assess or treat Mr. Rosenbaum correctly, and that the first responders did not understand the scope of their jobs and the basic protocols for patient care.

Mr. Lyons said the recertification classes are among the only opportunities to gauge the skills of EMTs and to train them in the latest techniques.

The classes consist of 32 hours of refresher training followed by written and practical skills examinations, plus eight hours of refresher training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“Because they are not evaluated as paramedics are, that’s the only time you can reassess their skills in a training environment,” Mr. Lyons said. “You get physicians to come in to talk about new techniques, new resources, new tools to save lives.”

The reason cited for suspending the one-week classes is that fire officials must pay overtime to those filling in for people taking classes.

An inspector general’s report said that the fire department last year exceeded its $6 million overtime budget, finishing the fiscal year with $8.1 million in overtime.

Mr. Etter said several unanticipated expenditures arose during this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Among them, the department had to pay about $350,000 in health care benefits for firefighters whose insurance coverage had been accidentally canceled, the federal government gave a less-than-expected reimbursement for service provided for federal events and incidents around federal installations, and an absentee rate of about 20 percent for single-role EMS providers drove up overtime costs.

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